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Washington Report: In its 25th year, Legislative Conference spotlights nutrition :

April 15, 2016

More than 120 pediatricians traveled to Washington, D.C., in April for the AAP Legislative Conference, all sharing an interest in child health advocacy and a desire to use their voices to make a difference.

The conference equips participants, ranging from medical students to retired physicians, with the skills and knowledge necessary to be effective advocates for children.

Participants in this year’s conference joined the more than 2,000 pediatricians who have come to the nation’s capital over the years to learn about the Academy’s policy priorities, further their advocacy experience and visit with their legislators on Capitol Hill.

The conference equips participants, ranging from medical students to retired physicians, with the skills and knowledge necessary to be effective advocates for children.The conference equips participants, ranging from medical students to retired physicians, with the skills and knowledge necessary to be effective advocates for children.

Since the first Legislative Conference in 1988, significant progress has been made for children’s health, in major part due to pediatrician advocacy efforts.

From the development of life-saving vaccines to connecting children to health insurance coverage, successes were shared from the podium as examples of what can be achieved through advocacy and as motivation for the issue at hand in 2016: child nutrition reauthorization.

Advocacy … it’s part of the job description

Starting from day one, participants heard from speakers about the inherent power of the pediatrician voice.

Mona Hanna-Attisha, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, who was greeted by her fellow pediatricians with a standing ovation, shared her journey in Flint, Mich., where she brought to light the effects of lead-contaminated water on the health of children and is pursuing long-term solutions to help families recover.

“Advocacy is part of our job description as pediatricians. I was just doing my job,” said Dr. Hanna-Attisha. “You never know when another pediatrician will be needed by another Flint.”

Her three pieces of advice for pediatricians: use your voice, you are the expert on children; you are not alone, find allies; and, be prepared.

This sentiment was echoed throughout the conference, from the plenary sessions to the skills-building workshops:

  • Marsha Raulerson, M.D., FAAP, chair of the AAP Committee on Federal Government Affairs, and Anne R. Edwards, M.D., FAAP, AAP District VI vice chair, provided examples of the critical advocacy work taking place at the state and federal levels.
  • Rafael López, commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families, spoke about the connection among poverty, the child welfare system and health care, and the critical work of pediatricians in these areas.
  • Benjamin D. Hoffman, M.D., FAAP, a member of the AAP Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention, shared his advocacy story leading to efforts on child passenger safety.

During another plenary session, attendees heard from three pediatricians who work within the federal government to advance policies important to children’s health. Clara Filice, M.D., M.P.H., M.H.S., FAAP, Aimee Grace, M.D., FAAP, and Kamillah Wood, M.D., M.P.H., shared how they transitioned into their current roles and provided an insider’s perspective on how pediatricians can influence policy change directly.

Subspecialty Advocacy Track debuts

This year’s conference piloted a Subspecialty Advocacy Track to address the advocacy work of pediatric medical and surgical subspecialists, from legislation to implementation.

Track participants, including 18 members of the AAP Section on Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, attended workshops and heard from experts in their fields on relevant AAP priorities such as addressing pediatric subspecialist shortages and advocating for children with special health care needs. In a tailored skills-building session, participants learned how to communicate their specialized expertise to policymakers.

The track also offered the group of about 27 attendees the opportunity to network and learn from one another’s unique advocacy experiences.

Spotlight: Child nutrition reauthorization 

Congress is overdue to pass legislation reauthorizing critical child nutrition programs. With momentum building on Capitol Hill, the issue served as the main advocacy topic at this year’s conference.

On the second day of the conference, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Kevin Concannon shared how federal nutrition programs are working for children and families across the country.

These messages were reinforced during the Issue for Capitol Hill session. Panelists spoke about the inextricable link between health and nutrition and the importance of programs such as the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, school meals, summer feeding programs and the Community Eligibility Provision.

On the final day, attendees headed to Capitol Hill where they heard about the importance of pediatrician advocacy from Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Agriculture Committee, and John Tester (D-Mont.).

“Pediatricians guide patients from diapers to diplomacy,” said Sen. Tester.

Participants visited congressional offices from more than 30 states, sharing messages focused on early nutrition, school-based nutrition, and food insecurity and hunger as they asked for passage of a strong, bipartisan child nutrition bill.

During a debriefing session, participants spoke about their experiences, reflected on feedback they received from congressional staff and discussed next steps for advocacy action.

In his closing remarks, AAP President Benard P. Dreyer, M.D., FAAP, called on participants to sustain their advocacy efforts.

“As you prepare to leave Washington, keep evolving as an advocate,” he said. “Stay informed, stay involved, stay inspired.”

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